British Columbia

Volunteer trail builders in Fraser Valley describe provincial crackdown

Volunteer trail builders in the Chilliwack. B.C., area say provincial enforcement officers are cracking down on their unauthorized trails on Crown land, but gaining permits takes years in some cases.

Trail builders warned to stop work with signs, phone calls and personal visits

Sam Waddington (left) and Graham Houlker work on a section of trail in Chilliwack. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Sam Waddington and Graham Houlker smooth out a section of lumpy trail in the forest at the Lexw Qwo:m Park in Chilliwack, B.C., about an hour's drive east of Vancouver.

Houlker swings a pulaski into the soil, while Waddington uses a purpose-made trail building tool to scrape and pound the moist dirt near the edge of provincial Crown land.

The hiking and mountain biking trail snakes up a steep slope through rich, green forest. Ferns, devil's club and salal fill the space between enormous cedar and hemlock trunks.

People volunteer to build and maintain trails the local community wants to use, but they can't continue their work into the Crown land — the province has ordered the Chilliwack Parks Society, of which Houlker is a member, to cease and desist.

A sign posted on a trail on Crown land near Cultus Lake in the Lower Mainland's Fraser Valley warns unauthorized trail builders they need permission from the provincial government. (Sam Waddington)

"I was quite shocked," said Houlker. "I haven't done any [trail building] for a few weeks now, which I'm kind of upset about."

'Massive delays'

According to Waddington, the owner of a local outdoor equipment store, the cease and desist order at Lexw Qwo:m Park is part of a larger trend of increased enforcement on unauthorized trails in the area — but in many cases, authorization is a glacially slow process.

"There is a permitting process in place, but there have been massive delays," said Waddington, who claimed some of the trails where new warning signs from the province have appeared have been waiting for approval for several years.

Sam Waddington, who owns an outdoor equipment store in Chilliwack and previously sat as a city councillor, says provincial officials need to speed up approval of new trails or risk turning people away from the legal trail-building system. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Waddington said he recently got a visit at his store from an enforcement officer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources. He was told to quit work on a trail near Cultus Lake on Crown land.

"Trail cameras were set up in the forest to catch some of us that were out there," he said, though he never saw the cameras and wasn't shown the photographic evidence.

Applications stretching resources

Staff at the ministry declined a CBC News interview request and instead sent a written statement.

"At this time, the Chilliwack recreation district receives more trail applications than can be reviewed by staff," it read.

"Applicants can expect the process to take about one year to determine if a new trail is authorized; more complex applications with multiple stakeholders may take longer," said the statement.

Volunteer trail builder Graham Houlker wields a polaski to dig up a bit of trail in Chilliwack. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

There was no explanation for the perceived crackdown taking place in recent weeks in the Fraser Valley, except that it may be "related to the increase in recreational interest in the area."

Waddington said the fines for violating the Forest and Range Practices Act could be up to $10,000. The maximum prison sentence is six months.

"I think that one of the big tragedies happening here is that you're making volunteers feel like criminals," he said. "If that's the stage we're at with our government, I think that needs to shift."

Volunteer trail builders Graham Houlker, Sam Waddington and Kelly Pearce walk down a wooden feature on the Thaletel hiking and mountain biking trail in Chilliwack's Lexw Qwo:m Park. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Houlker is 68 and began trail building after retiring four years ago.

"Just leave us alone to do what we want to do," he said. "We do it within boundaries. We don't do anything willy-nilly — we don't just rush at things — we think it through."


Do you have more to add to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now